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Canberra Today 2°/5° | Sunday, May 22, 2022 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Sobering message behind the laughs

Sara and Simon in “The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes”.

Theatre / “The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes”. At The Playhouse until May 13. Reviewed by SAMARA PURNELL

ON an overhead screen, an underscore symbol blinks. As a conversation from off-stage is heard, subtitles begin to appear. The voices are those of Scott (Scott Price) and Sarah (Sarah Mainwaring) and the voice-recognition text accompanies Scott’s advice to Sarah about crotch-touching. 

At a community hall in Geelong, three neuro-diverse characters Scott, Sarah and Simon (Simon Laherty) have come together under the premise of a town meeting. About what, exactly, is not immediately clear. What follows is a variety of brief discussions on a multitude of topics, beginning with how each of the characters feels about the use of the term “disabled”. Sarah isn’t a fan but Scott is not fussed, proclaiming he “doesn’t want to weave my way around language!”

The use of the subtitles, much to the chagrin of Sarah, elicits some very funny “talk to sex…..text” fails and it’s deliciously uncertain as to whether these are genuine or all part of the script. On the other hand, one of the main frustrations aired by Scott, Sarah and Simon is their struggle with communication, namely speech, as demonstrated in an amusing “acknowledgment of country” presentation by Simon, struggling to get his tongue around the indigenous language.

The characters go between their own conversations, to addressing the audience directly, to imparting information on abhorrent historical treatment of people with a disability and the challenges faced by a neuro-diverse community. Where does attempted empathy and patience become patronising or condescending?

Underlying all this is the topic of the prevalence and evolution of artificial intelligence, from “HAL”, the AI character from Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey” to the current interactions Scott is having with “Siri”.  As the play progresses, Siri becomes more interactive, assertive and passive aggressive.

The staging is simple, the props are moved and manipulated by the cast, including a large foam block, (used unexpectedly, but to great comedic effect by Scott, who delivers his meeting notes from atop it, with biblical-scale drama).

It takes a short while to ease into the pace and delivery of the play and then the comedic timing and dialogue of the actors can be enjoyed and contemplated.

Director Bruce Gladwin and his cast of “The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes” deliver a genuinely funny, acute, and thought-provoking production that also delivers an ominous and sobering message… that “neurotypical” people will be in the position these characters feel they are in now, when AI begins to take over. The title of the play now becomes clearer. And as the lights fade, a blinking underscore waits…

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Ian Meikle, editor

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